Long time readers know about one of APW’s pet projects: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Dress. This project started years ago when there were far fewer of us hanging around these parts, and it involved readers passing dresses, one to the other. It was one of my very favorite things in APW-land, but like all good things, it eventually needed to wind to a close. A few dresses were shared and loved, but far more often the idea of sharing a dress was more powerful than the difficult reality of sharing a dress, and tears were shed. So, to bring the series home, I’m honored to bring you Rachel and Jenn (whose new paper venture is over here), talking about the dress they shared, and loved. And just a warning. This one might not be safe for work. I cried when I least expected to…
Jenn: APW and The Sisterhood changed my life and shaped my wedding. And I stumbled across it by accident, after a small misunderstanding with my photographer.
I found my photographer (sponsor Jenn Link) on another wedding website. When I emailed to contact her, she thought I had said I found her on APW, and offered me the APW special price for that year. Because this was better than my wildest dreams, I decided to take a gander at this website she mentioned, so that I could honestly say I had seen her over there too… and the rest is history for me.
I read the whole archives that first weekend, and it was just like a cartoon lightbulb came on over my head. I think many people here feel the same way, but across the ocean in London, feeling alone and swamped by how much everything would cost (and yet could still look tacky) APW felt like a shining beacon cutting through the fog of WIC bullsh*t. I finally experienced the delicious freedom to let go of everything the WIC wanted to sell me, but I knew I didn’t need.
The first week after I started reading, Meg ran a post on venue chairs, and why it seemed to be one thing sensible women were still willing to spend money to upgrade, despite the obvious unimportance. When I left a comment about how much I hated my venue’s pepto pink chairs, but didn’t know my sensible side could bring myself to rent new ones, Liz left a comment telling me she was happy for me to borrow the chair covers she had bought for her wedding. And then a few weeks after that, Rachel’s post arrived, giving away her dress.
I put myself forward after a long debate, with both myself and my friends/family. I wondered if I would regret not having the experience of “finding the one” with my mom, surrounded by loving bridesmaids, I wondered if I would regret that it was only about 50% like what I had envisioned wearing, I wondered if it was the right size, I wondered if it would even look good on me… there were a lot of doubts. But the buttons—they were just so beautiful! Rachel looked graceful and elegant wearing it, but not in a fussy way, which is how I wanted to be. And also, she partied hard in it, and it was still standing. So I decided to go for it—what was the worst that could happen?
A few months later when I moved back to DC from London, I met with Rachel (and also Sarah) for the hand-off. We had a few beers, got to know each other a tiny bit, and took some immortal Polaroids (with Rachel’s actual Polaroid camera, not just an iPhone app) where I have my eyes closed. Once I got the dress home though…I put it on, with great difficulty, and knew I could not wear it in that form. It barely fit me—I felt like a little sausage in a casing, and could definitely not breathe. I really didn’t like the bows on the front and back, as I felt like they didn’t suit me, and I wondered if I would get to a point where I actually liked the dress, or could sit down while wearing it.
I agonized for a few weeks. I didn’t know if I could slim down to fit into the dress; I didn’t know that I even wanted to. I felt this enormous responsibility to Rachel, who I was still getting to know, and I didn’t want to cause any heartbreak for either of us. I also really really didn’t want to go dress shopping—at least half of my brain had fully checked into the notion that I had just received a dress for free thankyouverymuch. I felt guilty that I was even considering scrapping the dress that someone had given to me—who was I to decide now that it didn’t work for me? I was beating myself up, but I really wanted to stay true to me without hurting any feelings.
I don’t know at what point exactly my mindset changed. I found some gorgeous blue satin ribbon at PaperSource one day, and I had Sarah come over to look at how we could alter the dress, to see if there was enough room in there. And we just went for it: we cut off the little bows. (I still have those little bows, somewhere in the mess of my room at my parents’ house.) And she told me there was plenty of room to let out the waist if I needed, and that of course we could do the lace and ribbon waist belt that I wanted, and wouldn’t it be cool if we used all that extra lace ($7 total on Etsy) as a little ruffle at the hem?
And so the months went by, and we had some bookclubs, and Rachel asked if anyone would be interested in kickboxing with her in a local class. I decided to give it a go, and before I knew it 9 months and -25lbs later, I realized she had given me way more than a dress. Oh, and then also? She did the whole day-of coordination for my wedding, no big deal. Perhaps if I pay for her firstborn’s college education I’ll be able to make it up to her. (Or I am available for dogsitting in the meantime? …Just saying.)
After all of Sarah’s hard work, a few weeks before the wedding the dress was ready, and I knew I didn’t have any more doubts. Of course there were dozens more dresses I could have worn that would have worked equally well, but those dresses don’t matter because I didn’t have them, and this particular dress was a part of something bigger. I didn’t even trip on it walking down the aisle—it was clearly meant to be. For those interested in the bottom line, in the end my dress cost $12 in materials, plus a KitchenAid mixer (my gift to Sarah for doing the alterations), and a few beers.
On my wedding day, when Rachel came in to see me after the ceremony, I was actually really nervous: Would she hate what I had done to the dress? Did she feel weird to see someone else wearing it? Was she happy it’s finally over? And then we took a picture together to send to Meg and you guys, and the rest of the wedding happened, and as I am typing this I realized I still don’t know. Because even if she felt conflicted about seeing me in the dress, Rachel is way too polite to say so, on any day of the week let alone on my wedding day. So I have to hope that it was ok, because that’s the beauty of the sisterhood, in a way: it forces you to let go, because someone else did the hard part of picking the dress. And I will tell you, I got more compliments on the dress than on any other aspect of the wedding. Better, most of the compliments were that the dress was “so perfect for me.”
As part of her welcome speech at the reception, my mom had a special part for you guys, which I will paraphrase/shorten because I was emotionally occupied and don’t remember all of it:
And a big thanks to all the APW ladies, for showing Jenn that this wedding was possible, and especially to Rachel.
And I do thank each and every one of you, and especially Rachel.
Rachel: I was hesitant about writing something for this post, because it felt to me like I have had my say here, and it’s Jenn’s time now. But what really convinced me was reading what she planned to say to you all, and I couldn’t let it go without answering her question. Without exaggeration, I was totally, totally over the moon excited for Jenn on her wedding day. Partly I was excited because I freaking love weddings, and I was just giddy for her that it was finally here and she and Brandon were finally married. But I was also truly excited and happy to see my dress again, though it was not my dress anymore, in more ways than one. She has no idea how much of a gift it was for me, to see it loved again.
I knew that she was anxious about the ways she changed it, and I still have no idea how to make her believe I am not just being polite. Did I involuntarily wince at the thought of snipping off the bows? Of course. But my dress, as it was the day I got married in it, can’t be altered. It still exists the way it was and will always be, in my memory, and in my husband’s memory, in the hearts and minds of all our guests that day (and of course, on Facebook, forever). Once I got over the initial shock, it seemed absolutely natural and right for her to alter it to her own style; wearing a dress that made her feel like not herself would have completely defeated the purpose and spirit of the offering.
I was a new “baby bride” when Erika thought up the first dress giveaway, and it blew my mind a little bit. I didn’t know then if I could ever bring myself to give away my dress, but I hoped I could. When the time came, it was easier than I expected, maybe because I had prepared myself for over a year for the possibility, I’d seen so many giveaways happen and there was always so much joy. By the time I handed over the dress, wrapped up and distorted by dry cleaner plastic, there was a tiny bit of heartache and more emotions than I could put words to, but mostly I was just happy and excited, and hoping I wouldn’t die of anticipation over the fifteen months till her wedding. I never dreamed I’d get to be involved in her actual wedding day, but being able to be there and see it all for myself was honestly a huge (huge) gift.
Photos by: Jenn’s wedding photos by Jenn Link Photography (except the one of Jenn and Rachel together), Rachel’s wedding photo by Bong Lee of Bisou Photography